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Hunter, D. (1988). Doubling, Mythic Difference, and the Scapegoating of Female Power in MACBETH. Psychoanal. Rev., 75(1):129-152.

(1988). Psychoanalytic Review, 75(1):129-152

Doubling, Mythic Difference, and the Scapegoating of Female Power in MACBETH

Dianne Hunter, Ph.D.

Psychoanalytic literary criticism has often been attacked as ahistori-cal. But the new historicism in Renaissance studies, coupled with recent feminist analyses of gender as a social construction, provide a multifaceted context for illuminating literary texts as ideological responses to and creations of the social fabric from which they are woven. In its double status as both recurrent archetype and ideological construct, myth provides a particularly rich array of topics for discussing the social texture of literature.

Fusing psychoanalytic feminist with contextual criticism, this essay examines the analogies between psychological dynamics and political processes in Shakespeare's Macbeth. My argument is that Macbeth sacralizes the difference between succession by primogeniture and succession by assassination, though the play's rhetorical and structural doublings dissolve that very difference. This paradox allows us to see the play as a myth in the structuralist sense as a mediator of unwelcome cultural contradictions, in particular, the tension between political hierarchy and the facts of life—between the politics of maintaining an ordered system of differences and the biological fact that succession involves the dissolution of the very differences hierarchy seeks to uphold among persons, sexes, and generations. What makes Macbeth tragic is that its ideology of succession requires an oedipal scapegoat; and what makes the play a patriarchal myth is that its imagery associates the dissolution of differences that inheres in father-son succession with illegitimate violence, preoedipal fluidity, and sterile female power.

Through scapegoating female powers in the form of demonized

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